PATHS pilot to be expanded

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 2, 2003

Whenever this year's kindergarten students at the Troy Early Childhood Center see a turtle, they will likely remember the lessons they learned this past semester.

But, there's one little girl and a teacher's aide who will, for a long time, remember what "Doing Turtle" is all about.

Tehya Poslie is one of the almost 200 kindergarten students who participated in the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies program), this school year, and took the lessons to heart.

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As a matter of fact, she considered the lessons important enough that she taught teacher's aide Tonika Perry a lesson.

Through a joint effort between Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Pike County and the Troy City Board of Education, PATHS was put into the kindergarten curriculum during the 2002-2003 academic year and will be expanded into the first grade next year.

The PATHS curriculum was written more than 15 years ago to help grade-school children develop better thinking skills and more mature, responsible ways of behaving in order to boost academic performance. Goals of the program are to help children think independently and act more responsibly.

A large part of the kindergarten curriculum involves a turtle, who is somewhat of a mascot, Lakey said.

The first unit in the curriculum involves lessons about a turtle who can't control his emotions. He becomes somewhat of an outcast among his classmates because his lack of control results in nobody wanting to play with him. He is also constantly getting in trouble at school and home.

Then, one day, when the turtle is sadly wandering around because he has no friends, is making bad grades and is always getting into trouble, he encounters a wise old turtle and in just minutes, the troubled turtle's life is turned around when he learns to "go into his shell" to calm down when he's upset.

At school, the next day, he uses the lesson of going into his shell, taking a deep breath and telling himself what the problem is and how it makes him feel. His teacher takes notice and positively reinforces his actions, which soon become habit.

It's that lesson that Tehya taught Perry one day with the teacher's aide was frustrated in the classroom.

"Everybody was talking and she said, 'be quiet' and they wouldn't," Tehya said describing what happened that day. "I saw she was getting mad."

The little girl with the toothless grin quietly went up to Ms. Perry.

"I said 'do turtle' and she asked how to," Tehya said.

She proceeded to teach the aide how to do just that and, now, Perry is an advocate for the PATHS Curriculum.

With a laugh, Perry quickly agreed the children were trying her patience that day and the lesson she learned from one of her students was one she will long remember.

"I do think about it [the Turtle Technique] when I get upset," Perry said.

"It's stories like the one about Tehya and Ms. Perry that reinforce the importance of methods such as the Turtle Technique," said Beth Lakey, PATHS Instructor/ Mentoring Specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pike County. "Everyone gets upset at some time or another and needs to learn positive ways of dealing with that anger, frustration or whatever negative emotions are rearing their ugly heads.

"Ms. Perry would probably be one of the first to tell you she learned a very valuable lesson that day, but the teachers, who quickly learned about the young student's action, learned something, too. They realized how important it is for them to control their emotions in the classroom because little eyes are always watching."

"By teaching these young children how to think for themselves, I'm teaching them how to learn," Lakey said.

She said the PATHS Curriculum was developed at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash., and is based on scientifically-researched principles, which make it ideal since, in order to receive monies from the federal "No Child Left Behind" funds, schools are required to indicate scientific proof their proposed curriculum will work.

Troy is the only known school system in this region to have the PATHS Curriculum, Lakey said.